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From Failure to Success: A Story of Growth And Entrepreneurship With Insights To Surviving COVID-19

By Jowell Shek @ Ooosh Coworking

The Magic Formula?

Creating a community, connecting individuals and businesses is at the core of “co-working” and “co-living”. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of “co”. That is the very reason I have decided to join the Ooosh team. I was curious to see how a coworking space could be “more than a workspace solution”, so we say.

Sure, we have two chic and cozy office spaces with free flow NOC coffee, drinks and snacks, regular happy hours and lunch gatherings… basically like most of the other coworking spaces?

I wanted to know the secret sauce. The magic formula behind Ooosh that gave it the ability to not only maintain full capacity at their Lai Chi Kok location, but had to expand their space, in midst of the closing down frenzi of coworking spaces such as WeWork and KR Spaces. Not only so, but also being able to catalyse the growth of multiple successful startups names such as Homecourt, Pickupp, Cloudbreakr and Omnichat amongst others?

Two weeks in, I was listening to a podcast interview Statrys did with our founder, where Jeffrey shared how his experience in advertising, education business, and clothes manufacturing, combined with his curiosity led him to launch a business tightly connected to the start-up’s scene. The interview lent me some insights on how his background and experiences helped him build a successful coworking space and VC.

Together, Let’s Grow!

If you are or have been a founder or entrepreneur, you would understand just how amazing yet terrifying running your own business is.

Simply looking at his education and family background, he must have all the help he needed in his career to sail smoothly out to the sea. On the contrary, he decided to go on his own and take another route. Jeffrey has had his fair share of hiccups and failures before reaching where he is now with a successful coworking space and venture capital firm. After graduating from university in Toronto, he went on to work for a small advertising company in Hong Kong. After moving to a bigger advertising agency, Leo Burnett, for a few years, he started his first business.

In around 2012, it was a time when education centres, and after-school tutorial was all the rage. He set up an education centre that helped students develop a critical thinking mindset. There was a great product-market fit - especially when it was a time when Liberal Studies subject has just been made mandatory in the HKDSE curriculum. Despite this, the business didn’t do well, and he had to exit in just one year.

I have compiled his post-mortem thoughts explained in the podcast:

  • Limited Vertical Knowledge: They weren’t from the industry. Neither of them even studied in a local high school.

  • Lack of Control: They gave up control of the entire business and outsourced everything, including the design and teaching of the courses.

  • Lack of Acquisition Strategies: They had no idea how to sell although they knew the product had demand. They didn't think of doing any digital marketing.

  • Lack of Customer Relationship Management: They were naive in assuming their customers would be sticky if the customers think what they are doing makes sense. However, they have failed to pay attention to their needs all the while. As a result, they lost many existing clients.

Starting and operating a business is no walk in the park. Having experienced this, I believe this a core reason why Jeffrey has created Ooosh with growing together with and supporting startups in mind. In many ways, Ooosh has provided a community that empowering startups and SMEs.

Apart from hosting events that provide market intel for startups, Ooosh provides a platform that connects reliable mentors and business partners for startups to grow. Ooosh is also one of the few coworking spaces in Hong Kong that operates with a Venture Capital arm, investing in early-stage startups, providing fundraising knowledge and a network for incubation and acceleration. Recently, Ooosh has also launched GROOO, a one-stop business growth solution, helping our members build up both inbound and outbound marketing efforts as well as revamping their brand and website.

Venture Investing

Speaking of Ooosh’s venture capital arm, I have, in fact, started as an analyst in Catalyst Ventures before getting involved with the coworking side. The more I understand the business and services provided by Ooosh, the more I learnt to appreciate the synergy of the two. The background and experiences Jeffrey has undoubtedly shaped him in being a great venture capitalist:

  • People Skills: Jeffrey mentioned in the podcast interview that in order to survive and thrive in the advertising industry, people skills are crucial. Being in the scene, he has learnt how to observe the emotions of different people, negotiate, communicate, and to manage expectations.

  • Angel Investment Background: Having done angel investing before starting Catalyst with Alex (our other Partner at Catalyst), he has the experience in investing in early-stage tech companies

  • Entrepreneurial Background: Having stumbled in various failures as an entrepreneur, and still learning as he runs Ooosh, he can not only understand and identify the early red flags of a business, but also has a better idea of what business models work for different businesses. He has honed his sight in identifying good and great startups among the others.

Together, Let's Endure!

After listening to the podcast interview, I had the chance to sit down with Jeffrey for a chat regarding how he sees the coronavirus situation, and how startups can survive and thrive as the world economy enters one of the darkest times in recent history. I was pretty taken aback by how he replied to me with such calmness and a light-hearted manner.

How can businesses survive and thrive through the coronavirus situation?

Here are some tips from Jeffrey:

  1. Cut unnecessary OPEX

  2. Stay focused and observe market behaviour changes. Do not cover your eyes because things are not going your way.

  3. Make pivots, multiple pivots if necessary, that addresses to new market needs

  4. Equip yourself, via digital transformation, redesigned product & services, etc, and get ready for a bounce back.

We are indeed suffering from slow businesses, albeit not as bad as some of the other businesses like the tourism industry, but we are facing various challenges in keeping a co-working space operating in normal capacities as much as possible. Jeffrey explained to me how running a business is usually a steep learning curve, and entrepreneurs stumble across failures more than successes.

Parting Word

Before closing, he ended with an optimistic note: Afterall, this is just a phase, and this trough will end in a matter of time. It is the businesses that have a solid plan on operations and financials that will survive this market trauma. So when the market recovers, we can embrace the unique opportunities that lie ahead.


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